I Learned a lot…And That is Telling
I learned a lot from the readings and talks for this week’s class.
And I think that fact is a sad and telling on my part.
I grew up in the Deep South, in the 60s. I lived in Alabama when George Wallace governed the state. Race played an important role in my upbringing. I knew words like the “white schools/churches/neighborhoods” and the “black schools/churches/neighborhoods,” “the black help” etc. (The movie The Help reminded me very much of the life I had in the Deep South growing up.) I knew the country club was where everyone went…because there were no African Americans. I heard classmates engage in very disturbing talk about African Americans – talk that we did not have in our home. There was no overt racism in our home. During this time, my father even stood up to the board of his church and announced African Americans would be welcome. None came, but the “higher-ups” did come and back up my father.
Overt racism, maybe not, but as I grew older, I would catch myself thinking in certain ways, just like Shankar Vedantim brought to our attention, almost hidden in my brain somewhere. I decided to address these problems and resolved that the best thing to do was to not see race at all, to see everyone the same, to fight back against my “hidden brain’s wiring,” so to speak. The readings for this week challenged that naïve assumption.
Interesting enough, the thing that really caught my attention was during the Heinemann podcast when one of the speakers talked about not ever hearing shampoo or haircare commercials that addressed her specific hair. The underlying culture that perpetuates racism is pervasive and insidious. It helps create and perpetuate stereotypes that create stereotype threats for our students, as Claude Steele talks about. (I actually watched a youtube video of Dr. Steele talking about his work instead of the readings. The youtube video is here: Claude Steele on youtube.)His research shows these threats impede student performance, but also that these threats can be addressed, at least to some degree.
Which comes back to: What do I do with all this? After reading the readings, I honestly feel ill prepared to address inclusivity issues in my classroom, which is a feeling I don’t especially like. I like, and can incorporate, and have incorporated, role-play into my class, especially on gender issues. And I noticed that this was one of the things Professor Labuski does. I can do this in terms of racism through world history as well, but it just seems like I should do more…. For example, Dr. Steele’s work shows that the way I frame assignments can be important for student success – this is a tremendous responsibility.
I guess, in the end, I feel a bit frustrated and challenged in ways that are good… so maybe that is a starting point.